Nearly a dozen UK scholarship offers have been extended to high school basketball prospects in the class of 2020, but John Calipari and his coaching staff are still on the lookout for more recruiting possibilities.
Several other standouts in the 2020 class have been linked to Kentucky but are still waiting on offers — such as Daishen Nix, Dawson Garcia and Makur Maker, among others — but additional targets continue to emerge as the summer recruiting season drags on.
Calipari recently spent a few days scouting at Nike’s annual Peach Jam finals, and another trio of intriguing prospects in the class of 2020 have been linked to the Wildcats in the days since.
247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels spoke to the Herald-Leader about each of those three players — Isaiah Jackson, DJ Steward and Ziaire Williams — and the latest with their development on the court and recruitments off the court.
His game: Jackson — a 6-foot-10 power forward from Detroit — averaged 10.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in Nike play this spring and summer, and he was named the top defensive player of the series at the circuit’s stop in Dallas a couple of months ago. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 16 overall player in the 2020 class.
“This is your prototypical run-and-jump power forward,” Daniels said. “He’s got a lean body. He’s got quick instincts. He’s quick off his feet. He’s a very good leaper. I think his best value is with his ability to protect the rim and his rebounding — he’s a pogo stick. The areas for improvement would be fine-tuning his offense and really polishing that up and developing some scoring moves around the basket. But, right now, his biggest value is being a rim-protector, a rebounder and a lob catcher.”
His recruitment: Daniels didn’t speculate on Jackson’s recruitment, but Michigan State is the leader on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page (though most of those predictions are more than a year old). Jackson, who plays his high school ball for Spire Academy (Ohio), was the first class of 2020 recruit to land a scholarship offer from Louisville, and the Cardinals have continued to recruit him hard. He seems to be in no hurry to make a decision and remains open to new schools.
His game: Steward — a 6-4 combo guard from Chicago — averaged 24.1 points per game during Nike regular-season play, shooting 83.1 percent on free throws and 40.6 percent from three-point range. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 31 overall player in the 2020 class, and he’s established himself as one of the nation’s best offensive players.
“DJ Steward is one of the best scorers in the country, and he can do it from all three levels,” Daniels said. “He’s got a wiry build, a quick first step. And he’s just got this aggressive scoring attack that he’s continued to develop. I thought he had a really good spring, and he’s carried that over into the summer, and it’s led to a bunch of new scholarship offers.”
His recruitment: In the past few weeks alone, Steward has landed offers from Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Arizona, Texas, Marquette and Illinois. The Blue Devils have emerged as the favorite on his Crystal Ball page, and — though Daniels hasn’t logged a public prediction of his own just yet — he said he likes Duke’s chances at the moment. “Duke offering, I think, was a big deal to DJ.”
His game: Williams — a 6-8 wing from Lancaster, Calif. — is the highest-rated player on this list, coming in at No. 6 overall in the latest 247Sports rankings for the 2020 class. He averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on the Nike circuit this spring, making 88.0 percent of his free throws. Williams will play his final season of high school ball at Sierra Canyon (Calif.) alongside the sons of NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“This is a kid that has tremendous size for a wing player,” Daniels said. “He’s a good athlete. His ball skills and shooting ability have continued to develop. And there’s a lot of upside wrapped up in his frame. I think he’s a little bit of a late-bloomer, and he’s progressing and getting better at just the right time. Right now, he’s a fairly good shooter from the mid-range area, but he’s starting to extend that. He has a smooth shooting stroke. I think he has as much upside as just about any wing prospect in this class. I think he’s that naturally gifted.”
His recruitment: North Carolina and Stanford have been getting most of the buzz this summer. “Those two schools are the ones that most have talked about, and those two certainly did their early work,” Daniels said. “But I don’t think he’s in a hurry to make a choice, and it certainly wouldn’t hinder other schools from being able to get into that top tier.” Daniels said a scholarship offer from Kentucky might move the needle for Williams, who seems to be taking a relatively deliberate approach to the process at the moment.